A lot of people have asked me how they can meditate; specifically how they can stop the constant flow of thoughts they have everyday.
I have always answered that there are many methods for achieving a meditative state where the flow of thoughts is largely diminished or even disappears. Some of these methods include the following: focusing on the breath, chanting mantras, lowering the number of breaths per minute, and so on. In reality, however, all of these methods follow a common theme: developing constant concentration in a specific point like;
- A physical point in the body: the third eye, tip of the nose, the point between the tip of the nose and the upper lip, where the air comes in and out, etc.
- The point of concentration can also be outside of the body like focusing on a plant, or in the photograph of a deity, etc, or
- A mental concentration on an emotion, like love, compassion, peace, etc.
There are no limits for these objects of concentration. The Buddhist calls it “Mindfulness”, which is otherwise being conscious, alert, thoughtful, observant and so on.
Other people have confessed to me that they do not believe they are capable of achieving that state of concentration. In my opinion, We all have the ability to concentrate in one point only without other thoughts. Simply, until now we have only experience this in other situations. For example, you may be listening to a soccer game on the radio or watching your favorite TV show or partaking in any other activity of interest to you. Meanwhile, someone next to you is calling your name, even screaming it, but you cannot hear him.
This shows that we have the ability to concentrate on a thing or object to the point that we become less aware of external stimulus.
Many people lose hope when they sit in a meditative pose, sometimes in pain, and try to block all thoughts and concentrate on the breath, only to discover that every 3 seconds or so the mind becomes caught in some thought. They are discouraged because they are not experiencing that state described in all the books as semi-magic, nirvana, flying, or the like.
When a person practices meditation as the simple act of blocking the thoughts creates the complete opposite, makes the thoughts stronger. Because of this, practicing yoga or breathing exercises (Pranayama) prior to meditation is very important. They prepare you to achieve a state of concentration prior to meditation.
The Pranayama techniques you can practice are described step-by-step in the meditation section:
Another obstacle when meditating is when you have expectations of how you should feel during the process. Thoughts like the following do not help: “By this time I should be flying” or “I don’t feel any sensation out of the ordinary yet, I must be doing something wrong”. Expectations completely ruin the experience. You must meditate without expectations. Before you start meditating, clear your mind of expectations and accept every sensation for what it is.
My proposition for this month is to dedicate one full day of the week to the practice of Mindfulness,the true practice of meditation in action. Almost every person has one or two days of rest a week, because without it we will lose ourselves quickly full of worry and action, and our responses will become increasingly useless.
We should actually use this technique everyday, but we often have the sense that our work, family and social responsibilities do not allow us this time. Even though we can use the technique of Mindfulness while working and performing any other responsibility, it’s best to start with one day per week. Soon we can discover the effect of this one day in the rest of the days throughout the week, in our relationships and how we feel.
Choose a day, any day, whatever day is most convenient for you. If you choose Saturday, all day is your day to be the master, from the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed. Invent something to remind you that this day is your day. You can place notes which read Mindfulness on the walls and ceilings of your house and, when you read them, you will smile. The smile has been proven to relax the mind and it is recommended that you maintain a slight smile while practicing Mindfulness.
In the morning while still in bed, start following your breath. Breathe slow, long, and consciously. Then slowly rise up from bed in complete Mindfulness, instead of jumping out all at once as usual. Once up, do all of your morning activities like washing your face, brushing the teeth, and so on. Do these tasks slowly and in a relaxing way. Perform each movement with consciousness, completely concentrating on that specific movement. Do not hurry, enjoy it, feel it. Every movement must be done in a relaxing way. Maintain a slight smile during the whole day.
Spend at least half an hour taking a bath. Do it slowly and mindfully, so that by the time you have finished, you feel light and refreshed. Afterwards, you may do some household work such as washing the dishes, dusting, wiping off the tables, cleaning the floor, arranging books on their shelves, and so on.
Whatever the task, do it slowly and with Mindfulness, with all of your attention. Do not do any task in order to get it over with. Enjoy and be one with your job. Without this, a day of Mindfulness will be of no value at all. Any sensations of feelings of frustrations or the like that you may have previously experienced will disappear when you perform the task with Mindfulness. The Zen masters undertake any task no matter how difficult and they do it slowly, evenly, and without reluctance.
For those who are just beginning to practice, it’s best to maintain a spirit of silence throughout the day. That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk or sing. If you decide to do so, you should to do it in complete Mindfulness, concentrating on what are you singing or talking and the meaning of the words. But if your power of concentration is weak you could loose it really fast. It is easier if you keep the amount of talking and singing to a minimum.
At lunch, prepare your own meal and wash the dishes in Mindfulness. In the evening, take some time to do things you like such as gardening, watching clouds, making tea, and so on. Give yourself a large amount of time for these activities. Do not drink the tea at once like most people at their lunch breaks. Drink it slowly, with reverence, as if the whole world revolves around it. Only this moment is life. Do not attach yourself with the future. Live in the actual moment. Do not worry about the things that you have to do.
In the evening, you may want to read or copy some uplifting scriptures, write to a friend, or any other things you may enjoy do it outside of your normal activities. But whatever activity you choose, do it in Mindfulness. At dinner, eat a little less food than you normally would. Later, around 10 or 11 PM sit and meditate. You will feel how much easier it is to meditate when the stomach is empty. Afterwards, you may want to go out for a walk in the freshness of the night, following your breaths, counting the breaths between one step and the next. Finally, go back to your room and sleep in Mindfulness.
Soon you will understand how this day is crucial and how it can affect the other days of the week. After you practice Mindfulness one day a week for three months, you will see a significant change in your life. The day in Mindfulness will start to penetrate the other days of the week, allowing you to live in that state for all seven days of the week. I am sure you will agree with me on the importance of one day in Mindfulness.